R.I. Promise program earns Excellence Award from N.E. Board of Higher Ed.

PROVIDENCE – The New England Board of Higher Education gave a 2019 Excellence Award to state officials on Tuesday for the Rhode Island Promise scholarship program, which allows high school graduates to attend the Community College of Rhode Island tuition-free.

The program was championed by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, who has proposed expanding the scholarship to cover in-state students in their final two years at Rhode Island College.

While the expansion – which would cost the state an additional $5.3 million – hasn’t garnered much support from legislative leaders, the NEBHE praised the effects of Rhode Island Promise since it started at CCRI in 2017.

The college has seen enrollment of Rhode Island full-time students coming out of high school increase 113%, while enrollment of low-income students has risen 143%, and enrollment of students of color is up 164%.

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“Rhode Island Promise is a pioneering model of efforts to make postsecondary education accessible and affordable, and we know that’s critical to our future economic well-being,” said NEBHE President and CEO Michael K. Thomas, citing national data showing bachelor’s degree recipients earn $1 million more in their lifetime, and associate degree recipients earn $360,000 more, compared to high school graduates.

The initiative offers free tuition to high school graduates entering CCRI and requires the students be on track to get an associate degree in two years and maintain a 2.5 GPA. The Rhode Island Promise is a so-called “last-dollar” scholarship, meaning all other sources of financial aid must be exhausted first.

The first cohort of Rhode Island Promise students numbered 1,580 when the program was launched in fall 2017. About 258 members of that original cohort graduated on Thursday.